Sunday, March 11, 2007

And using sociology makes Sociolaw, and using economics makes Econolaw, and...

Jeff Rosen has a fun little piece on law, neuroscience, and the horrible neologism that is "neurolaw." I don't doubt that advances in neuroscience will work some consequential changes in some areas of the law in the next few decades. But I'll admit that I don't think it'll be quite the revolution some people are expecting. For example... Jones and Marois talked excitedly about the implications of their experiments for the legal system. If they discovered a significant gap between people’s hard-wired sense of how severely certain crimes should be punished and the actual punishments assigned by law, federal sentencing guidelines might be revised, on the principle that the law shouldn’t diverge too far from deeply shared beliefs. Yes, or you could just ask people about their deeply shared beliefs. It's not terribly clear what the neurological data adds to the issue. But that's minor compared to the obligatory hand-wringing about the End! of! Responsibility! “To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain,” Greene says. “If that’s right, it radically changes the way we think about the law. The official line in the law is all that matters is whether you’re rational, but you can have someone who is totally rational but whose strings are being pulled by something beyond his control.” In other words, even someone who has the illusion of making a free and rational choice between soup and salad may be deluding himself, since the choice of salad over soup is ultimately predestined by forces hard-wired in his brain. Greene insists that this insight means that the criminal-justice system should abandon the idea of retribution — the idea that bad people should be punished because they have freely chosen to act immorally — which has been the focus of American criminal law since the 1970s, when rehabilitation went out of fashion. Don't tell John Calvin or Pierre-Simon Laplace, but apparently the neurolawyers think they've invented determinism. Strong arguments that free will is a fiction are nothing new. They've always created a tension with our legal system's decision to embrace the fiction. Again, I don't see how specific advances in neuroscience alter the equation. To be fair to Rosen, he does provide space for Stephen Morse's critique of neurolaw boosterism, which hits a lot of these notes. It's a little frustrating, though, to see such good arguments buried deep inside an article,.

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